The Nitty Gritty Life of a Doula
On call for weeks at a time. Twenty four- or more- hour shifts. No sleep. A few bites of a granola bar here and there. Standing up for hours on end. Forgetting to drink water. Sounds like a crazy job right? Welcome to my life.
This is being a doula. This is my deepest passion. The most common response I get when I tell people how I spend my free time, is “A do-what?”. More and more these days, people know what a doula is. But if you don’t, let me break it down for you.
The classic role of a doula, is someone who supports birthing people during the process of labor and birth. Notice how I used the term “birthing people” instead of women. Not all people who give birth identify as a woman. Part of being a contributing member of the birth worker community, is understanding the varying people that we may be supporting, and using inclusive language. Or language that does not leave certain demographics out of the conversation.
Doulas are not medical professionals. They are not midwives. They are not OB/GYN’s. Technically you don’t need any formal training or certification to be a doula. Doulas work in hospitals, in birth centers, and at home. Doulas attend Cesarian births, births with epidurals, unmedicated births, and more. A doula is there to support. A doula is there to hold space.
Holding space. This is a buzz word we hear being thrown around more and more, especially in the wellness realm. A person who holds space, checks their baggage, their insecurities, and their ego at the door in order to be fully present for the person or people they are holding space for. To hold space is to create a fluid, energetic container, so that transformation can take place. It is not up to the space holder to decide if this container is safe, or to manipulate or move the process in any way. A space holder is simply there, grounding down, checking in, maintaining a calm presence in the room.
This is a huge part of being a doula. There’s plenty of other things they do that are a bit more hands on. Here’s a nitty gritty breakdown of what that may look like.
Using counter-pressure techniques on the birthing person’s hips or lower back, to help relieve some of the intensity of contractions. Massage cramping legs and tense shoulders. Aromatherapy for nausea and relaxation. Ensuring that everyone is drinking water, and staying hydrated. Making sure the birthing person is urinating often enough. Watching that the partner- if one is present- has their physiological needs met; eating, sleeping, hydrating, is not about to faint (I’ve seen it happen). Encouraging partners or family to provide hands on support to the birthing person. Bringing the birthing person food if they have an appetite, and have the medical ok to eat. Gone are the days of only ice chips. Holding legs up during pushing, especially if they’ve had an epidural. Cleaning up fun stuff like blood and excrement.
Doulas often provide education and resources to their clients. If expecting parents have not taken any birth education classes, a doula may break down just what is happening in their body, and explain the process of birth. Doulas are there to help their clients understand their choices, and help empower them to advocate for themselves. As well as to ask their providers questions.
Many people have the notion that when they walk into a medical establishment, they are signing their rights away. At the end of the day, they are paying for a service, and have the right to ask questions. To understand what is happening to their bodies, to decline services, and ask to change providers if it comes down to it.
A doula can help mediate this process, especially during the intensity that is birth. This may be even more crucial, if there is a language and/or cultural barrier between the patient and provider.
I had a mentor that used the phrase “it’s not my body, not my baby, not my birth”. This rings so true. A doula does not make decisions for their client, but provides the resources so the client can make the best decision for themselves and their baby.
A doula is there to stay with the birthing person until the baby comes out, no matter the outcome of the birth. This is especially crucial in a hospital, where providers have so many patients and paperwork to attend to, that patients and partners are often left alone for much of the process.
Doulas are there to crack jokes, to say sweet words of affirmation, to add a layer of humanity to a process that is often stripped of it. Birth is unpredictable, and things do happen. We’re not there to tell clients that everything will be ok, because we don’t know that, and frankly- it’s not our job. We are there to look them in the eyes, to hold their hand, to be with them no matter what unfolds. We are there to remind them to breathe. That their breath will carry them through the most intense of moments.
There are many kinds of doulas. The most common is a birth doula, but doulas provide support in a variety of circumstances. Doulas attend stillbirths, miscarriages, abortions, and deaths. A postpartum doula helps care for the birthing person in the tender time after birth. Someone who works as a full spectrum doula, may do all of the above.
Doulas serve in whatever way necessary, while someone passes through to the other side. Whether that other side is a new life, motherhood, fatherhood, death, or all of the above. We are there to celebrate the beauty of life, and to support in times of loss.
To work as a doula, one must have incredible grit, stamina, and endurance. But most importantly, a whole lot of love. To watch lives enter and leave this world is the greatest blessing. It is an honor to bear witness to the greatest transformation a human undergoes.
It’s by no means an easy job, but the reward is immeasurable.
Being present for people’s most intense moments, breaks down barriers, sifts out the truly important things, and fosters the deepest sense of gratitude imaginable.
A life of service, is a life of love.